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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Apr. 30, 2004 17 years ago

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

This week's items: Atlanta-based SunTrust Bank is really pushing its purchasing-card systemLakewood Ranch postal opportunityd Sarasota attorney Miles Ferris from suspended for his work as a psychotherapist

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

Target customer: Everyone

Atlanta-based SunTrust Bank is really pushing its purchasing-card system for business users. At an April 28 meeting at Sarasota's Laurel Oak Country Club, SunTrust officials, along with their corporate partners San Francisco-based VISA U.S.A. Inc. and Austin, Texas-based Works Inc., met with local business and government leaders, including officials from Dooley and Mack Constructors Inc. and the town of Longboat Key, to promote their purchase cards.

SunTrust has been offering a purchase card system for more than 10 years, but two years ago the company partnered with Works, a provider of spending-management applications, to offer its business clients more real-time card-use analysis and interactivity over the Internet. Now, the purchase card system is being billed as the modern replacement for accounts payable, with greater automation and security capabilities.

Asked who the company was targeting with the services, John Ludewig, vice president and program sales officer of Commercial Card Services responded: "Do you know any businesses that doesn't pay a bill? We are after everyone." For the moment, though, the company is starting with large- to mid-size companies and municipalities.

One of the sales pitches designed to appeal to municipalities and other tax-exempt entities is that the card system's software can flag sales tax. In one case, the purchasing-card system allowed the city of Fort Lauderdale, to save some sales tax costs on a construction improvement project by buying construction materials itself rather than buying the materials through its contractors.

The program and marketing appears to be working, last year SunTrust had the fastest growing purchasing card commercial program in the VISA chain. SunTrust's purchasing card business grew by 38% compared to the industry average growth of 18%.

Lakewood Ranch postal opportunity

Note to entrepreneurs: There's a new business opportunity in Lakewood Ranch.

It seems Lakewood Ranch residents are eager to get a post office in their east-side hamlet, but the federal government doesn't have enough money for the expansion. The problem, recently brought up as part of the Lakewood Ranch Foundation's Community Action Forum, is being left to the free market to fill.

"We talked to (federal officials) about bringing a post office closer to Lakewood Ranch," says John Swart, president of Lakewood Ranch Realty. "They said that because of budget cuts and other funding issues they are not building new post offices today. The only expansions that are being done are through contract offices (where private individuals contract with the postal service to provide mail services)."

Swart says that Schroeder-Manatee Ranch officials are talking to several people about providing the service, but so far no contracts or decisions have been made.

Lawyer suspended

In an odd case that dates back to the '90s, the Florida Supreme Court suspended Sarasota attorney Miles Edward Ferris from the practice of law for two years for his work as a psychotherapist - not as a lawyer.

In 1995, Ferris worked for ACLF Medical Services Inc., which was investigated for Medicare fraud, according to court records. Ferris assisted the government with its investigation of ACLF and pleaded guilty to one count of causing a false claim to be filed.

"Respondent admitted that he 'knew or should have known that his Medicare provider number was being used to bill Medicare for psychotherapy purportedly being provided to ACLF residents' and that he 'deliberately and consciously tried to avoid learning that the recreational and leisure services being provided to ACLF residents were not reimbursable by Medicare, or that his Medicare provider number was being used to bill for psychotherapy which had not been provided.'"

The Florida Bar announced April 27 that Ferris was suspended by the court for two years, retroactive to Oct. 18, 2002.

Eastern bound?

Coffee Talk was pleased to see the Sarasota County Planning Services staff made challenging recommendations about the county's development border and how well it is going to handle the growth of the population over the next decade.

In the Sarasota County's Comprehensive Plan Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR) draft, issued in March, the staff recommended changes, based on growth statistics and other factors, to the Urban Services Boundary, which designates areas where the county is obligated to provide full services. The boundary has been one of the hurdles to development east of Interstate 75 in Sarasota County because of the additional cost to developers. The present boundary, not including exemptions, extends from Palmer Boulevard, Clark Road and the Bee Ridge Extension.

The report recommends "that in order to ensure that adequate urban residential capacity is provided to accommodate population growth projected for the 10-year period, from 2005 to 2015, following the adoption of this EAR, consideration should be given to:

× Moving the Urban Service Area Boundary to encompass all or a portion of the remaining unincorporated lands within the future urban area that are not designated as settlement areas under Sarasota 2050 or Future Land Use Policy 3.1.8.

× Re-designating the remaining future urban area as settlement areas and raise the settlement area maximum to 4,000 residential units, established in the 2050 Amendment. To address concerns about public utilities infrastructure investments and residential capacity needs in North County, also consider:

× Moving the urban service area boundary to encompass areas of logical expansion for county water and wastewater services that do not have major environmental constraints and are not designated in the Sarasota 2050 amendment as greenways or village/open space (e.g., stranded asset areas); or

× Providing additional options for development density and form in the stranded asset areas by amending policies addressing semi-rural development to allow an increase in semi-rural density under specific conditions."

One reason for the recommendation was two studies of housing demand based on historical growth patterns and projections by groups, such as Orlando-based Fishkind & Associates Inc. In one study, based on the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research medium range forecast, residential demand in North County (excluding the barrier islands) will exceed supply by 2012. The second growth scenario, based on average annual dwelling units construction within the urban services area, projects that the North County will be built out by 2011.

The draft report and recommendations from the Planning Commission are scheduled to go before the Sarasota County Commission on May 12.

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